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Families 'deeply concerned' about welfare of people with intellectual disabilities amid crisis

Inclusion Ireland has asked to appear before the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee.

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File photo
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INCLUSION IRELAND HAS requested to appear before the Oireachtas Special Committee on the country’s Covid-19 response.

The organisation has written to the committee’s chairperson, independent TD Michael McNamara, “to discuss the significant issues experienced at present by people with intellectual disabilities and their families”.

A spokesperson said “a multitude of issues affecting people with intellectual disabilities and their families have emerged” during the Covid-19 pandemic, but “voices of people with disabilities have been largely absent from the national discussion”.

“People with intellectual disabilities and their families are deeply concerned for the wellbeing and future of themselves and their family members and need clarity in relation to a number of issues,” the spokesperson added.

The Oireachtas committee was established on 6 May to examine the State’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Enda Egan, CEO of Inclusion Ireland, said successive governments have failed to transition people with intellectual disabilities from large congregated settings into the community.

“This long-delayed process has created a situation where thousands of people with disabilities continue to be at an increased – and wholly unnecessary – risk of contracting the virus,” Egan said.

He added that there is “much concern from people with intellectual disabilities and their families regarding the suspension of regular services, such as day services and respite services as a result of the restrictions currently in place”.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, McNamara thanked Inclusion Ireland for its “offer to outline to us the concerns of people with intellectual disabilities and their families”.

“It is hoped that the Committee will agree a work schedule in the coming week and the correspondence will be brought to the Committee’s attention.

“While I cannot preempt any decision which the Committee might take, I would hope that the offer will be availed of and that I will have the opportunity to meet with Inclusion Ireland  in the course of our work,” he said. 

Over 100 outbreaks 

More than 100 Covid-19 outbreaks have been confirmed in disability settings across the country.

Speaking earlier this month, HSE COO Anne O’Connor said: “A key priority for us is to ensure that we are providing supports to all vulnerable communities.

“What we’re seeing now is a growth in the disability and mental health settings and we would expect to see more of that,” she said.

On Sunday, the HSE confirmed that over 61,000 tests have been carried out in residential care settings to date.

An analysis of the results is currently being carried out but the indication is that the overall positivity rate of Covid-19 is low, despite clusters in certain facilities.

HSE CEO Paul Reid said earlier this week that there needs to be a “relentless focus and support” on all vulnerable groups, noting that these people are most affected by Covid-19 in Ireland and abroad.

Home-schooling

Egan also called for the Department of Education to take actions to support children with disabilities and their families, noting that home-schooling can be more difficult for children with a disability or condition such as autism.

“For children with complex behaviour and medical needs home education is very difficult or non-existent, despite the best efforts of parents and teachers,” he stated.

Egan said the results of a recent survey conducted by Inclusion Ireland of over 700 parents of children with a disability or autism highlight “a large ‘digital divide’ that exists where many families have no access to online resources or any form of technology”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education and Skills said it had “put in place a range of measures to provide supports to children with additional needs and their families during this period of school closure”. 

These include a guidance document for SNAs and SENs, they said. 

“It is acknowledged and welcomed that many SNAs have been engaged in such work through their schools since the closure period began,” the department said.

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“It has been confirmed to school management that, in the interim period pending the assignment of an individual SNA to the HSE under the SNA temporary assignment scheme  that SNA is available to support their allocated students through their school,” it added. 

The department said it plans to run a summer education programme for children with complex special education needs which, it said, would reduce regression in learning and its consequences. 

“The participation of schools, teachers and special needs assistants in the programme would be on a voluntary basis,” the spokesperson said, adding that a number of options are being considered and there will be consultation with stakeholders.

“An announcement will be made as soon as possible,” they added.  

A range of supports and advice available to schools and parents can be accessed here.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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